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Alma Optimists play key role in many facets of life in village

Community jewel - Spearheading a campaign that resulted in the construction of the Alma Community Hall is among the key accomplishments of the Alma Optimist Club, which plays an important role in many facets of life in the village.  Advertiser file photo

Alma Optimists play key role in many facets of life in village

by Patrick Raftis

ALMA - While service clubs are the lifeblood of many a small town, few clubs are as integral a part of the local fabric as the Optimist Club is here.

In Alma, it seems the Optimists play a role in virtually every facet of community life. From looking after the local outdoor rink to leading the push for a new community hall, the Optimists seem to be involved in everything going on, or up, in the village.

Dundas native Rob McKay joined the club shortly after moving to Alma in 1983.

McKay’s childhood memories including joining a youth group affiliated with a local church.

“That was just so much fun for me growing up and I never forgot that,” he recalls.

The program, which involved various sporting and other activities for young people, was primarily run by one volunteer.

“At one point in time it dawned on me that this guy was giving up his time. You know everyone’s time is precious and this person felt - and I don’t think he even had a child in the program - he just thought it was a good idea to do it for the youth.

“I think about that often,” says McKay, who, as an active volunteer and local Optimist Club member, has made himself available to help with a wide range of programs designed to benefit young people in the Alma area.

McKay’s involvement with the Alma Optimist Club began after he decided to sign his daughter Amanda up to play T-ball in the community, as a means of helping her get to know some of the local children prior to starting kindergarten that fall.

“The coach was a fellow named Jim de Bock,” said McKay who became friends with de Bock, a prominent, longtime member of the club.

“So I got to know Jim and he said, ‘I belong to this club, the Optimist Club, are you interested in joining?’”

McKay says he liked the hands-on approach the Alma club takes to working with local youth, as opposed to clubs that concentrate on raising funds and making donations.

“I wanted to be involved with the youth - because our motto is, friend of youth,” he notes.

Youth-oriented programs run by the club include Hit, Run and Throw; soccer; basketball and a popular spelling bee.

The club also takes an active role in getting youth from schools in the area involved in the Waterloo-Wellington Science and Engineering Fair.

“So it’s not just at the grass roots here but we managed to spread our wings a bit.

Since joining the Optimists in 1996, McKay has been an active volunteer in numerous areas. He can be often be found helping with beef barbecues, the Elora Fishing Derby and other events requiring the Optimist food booth.

“It’s something that everybody should probably take a turn at, and I enjoy interacting with the people. It’s just kind of a fun thing. That’s one thing about the Optimists, there is a lot of fun.”

Among the key accomplishments of the Alma Optimists, is the construction of the Alma Community Hall.

The club had developed a previous community hall in an old church, back in 1986, but outgrew the facility, which had also become dated in terms of accessibility and other features.

However, construction a new facility seemed out of reach until the 2008 recession promoted upper tier governments to offer funds for new infrastructure projects. With two-thirds of the funding secured from the federal and provincial governments, the Optimists split the remaining $600,000 share of the $l.6-million building with Mapleton Township.

A community fundraising campaign raised about $200,000 and sale of the old Optimist Hall raised a surprising $200,000.

“All of a sudden we had enough money and some in the bank,” McKay notes.

The extra funds were soon spent on restoring the community’s ball diamond, another Optimist facility, which had been damaged in a storm.

McKay says Alma is a “very caring community,” noting it draws strength from three areas key to any successful community: church, school and service groups.

“When all of them work together, then you can have a really strong community. In Alma it’s pretty simple: one school, one service club.”

Currently the club is gearing up to host one of Alma’s major winter events, the annual Plunger Toss.

The popular event, held at the local outdoor rink, better known as the Cow Palace, is slated to take place on Feb. 1 from 9am to 4pm.

For more information contact Jim de Bock at 519-846-5124.

January 31, 2014


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